recommended reading

An FBI battle over phone passwords Is brewing

It's not technically legal, but if the feds had it their way, they could have easy access to all the data on our phone even if it is password protected, The Wall Street Journal's Julia Angwin explains. While the government has made it clear that a lot of our phone data isn't really ours -- on Tuesday a Federal court said our location related data was "not constitutionally protected" -- there are still some limits to what the FBI can get easily get its hands on. "Government agents can often obtain data stored with third parties without obtaining a search warrant," writes Angwin. "But that standard doesn't take into account data as sensitive as a password," she continues. The FBI has the option to subpoena the phone owner for their password, but that's a tricky legal issue. Rather, it would appreciate easier access, as she explains in her lengthy account of the issue. 

One way the FBI tries to get around the rules is to go through the phone makers themselves. For now, it sounds like these companies aren't as complacent as the FBI might like. "Google Inc. GOOG +1.34% earlier this year refused to unlock an alleged pimp's cellphone powered by its Android software—even after the Federal Bureau of Investigation obtained a search warrant," writes Angwin. Apple has a similar policy: "We never share anyone's passcode," a spokesperson told Angwin. But, apparently Google has complied in other similar situations, as Softpedia's Lucian Parfeni notes, which may have contributed to the FBI's current attitude, suggests Michael Arrington over at Uncrunched. "After a couple of years of this the police won’t just be happy they can track anyone – they’ll start to really think that they have the absolute right to track everyone," he writes. For now, thanks in part to Google, the FBI does not have that absolute right. But there's a battle brewing. 

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.